Researchers have long known that air pollution can increase the risk of disorders such as obesity, diabetes and fertility, but they did not know the exact mechanism for how it can lead to these health conditions.
Now, University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers have shown how air pollution reduces sperm count in mice by causing inflammation in the brain.
The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, connects the dots on how breathing polluted air can lower fertility. “Our findings showed that the damage due to air pollution — at least to the sperm count — could be remedied by removing a single inflammation marker in the brains of mice, suggesting that we may be able to develop therapies that could prevent or reverse the damaging effects of air pollution on fertility,” said lead study author Zhekang Ying, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UMSOM.
Researchers found that one specific kind of neuron typically associated with sleep cycle and obesity was responsible for the reduced sperm count due to air pollution. These neurons typically are found in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain which controls hunger, thirst, and sex drive. The hypothalamus also works with the brain’s pituitary gland, which makes hormones that communicate directly with reproductive organs.
“Looking back, it makes perfect sense that the neurons in the hypothalamus are the culprits perpetuating this inflammation response that results in low sperm count, as we know that the hypothalamus is a major pathway link between the brain and the reproductive system,” said Dr. Ying.